Welcome to the February 2, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A Small-Scale Demonstration Shows How Quantum Computing Could Revolutionize Data Analysis
Technology Review
January 31, 2018

An experiment by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China has involved using quantum computers to calculate Betti numbers for the first time. The researchers say their work "suggests that data analytics may be an important future application for quantum computing, with widespread applications in our increasingly data-centric world." The team ran a quantum algorithm developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Seth Lloyd and colleagues to accelerate Betti number calculation on a quantum system, using a six-photon quantum processor to analyze the topological features of Betti numbers in a network of three data points at two different scales. The researchers say the outcome fulfilled their expectations precisely. "Future advances in the field could open up new frontiers in data analysis for quantum computing, including signal and image analysis, astronomy, network and social media analysis, behavioral dynamics, biophysics, oncology, and neuroscience," the team predicts.

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A shelf of medical records Google: Using Your Health Records to Predict Whether You'll Live or Die
The Mercury News
Ethan Baron
January 30, 2018

Computer scientists and medical experts from Google and three U.S. universities say they have developed deep-learning software to predict whether a hospitalized patient will live or die. The software employs medical-records data including patient demographics, previous diagnoses and procedures, lab results, and vital signs. The list of predicted outcomes is topped by "inpatient mortality," in which the patient is reported as "expired." The software infers such incidences as unplanned re-admissions to the facility within 30 days, and the likely length of stay and diagnoses. "These models outperformed state-of-the-art traditional predictive models in all cases," the researchers say. They note the software could predict death, at 24 hours following admission, with 93-percent to 95-percent accuracy, about 10 percent better than the traditional predictive method. Quartz magazine also says the team claims the software can predict patient deaths 24 to 48 hours before current methods, which could give time for doctors to make life-saving interventions.

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Julie Flapan (left) the executive director of ACCESS and Jane Margolis (right) the founder of ACCESS Educating for Equity and Access in Computer Science
UCLA Newsroom
Joanie Harmon
February 1, 2018

In an interview, University of California, Los Angeles' Jane Margolis and Julie Flapan discuss their mission to boost the diversity of next-generation programmers and coders. "We bring educational theory about equity into the world of computer science [CS] education and are working on parallel tracks to increase demand at the local level for CS in our schools, while also working at the state level to ensure equitable access to teaching and learning opportunities," Flapan says. She also notes the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools aims to grow the pool of qualified CS teachers by updating CS supplementary authorization that will enable interested educators from a variety of subjects to teach the discipline. "We have to challenge assumptions about who has what it takes to become a computer scientist, and policies that promote computer science for some students and not others," Margolis notes.

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flamingoes flying Letting Molecular Robots Swarm Like Birds
Hokkaido University
Naoki Namba
January 31, 2018

Researchers at Hokkaido University and Kansai University in Japan have created DNA-assisted robots that autonomously swarm in response to chemical and physical signals, which could lead to the development of future nano-machines. The new "swarm robots" measure 25 nanometers in diameter and five micrometers in length, and they exhibit behavior similar to that of motile organisms such as fish, ants, and birds. "These include the formation of complex structures, distinct divisions of labor, robustness, and flexibility, all of which emerge through local interactions among the individuals without the presence of a leader," says Hokkaido University's Akira Kakugo. He notes the new system has three essential robot components--sensors, information processors, and actuators. The researchers used cellular proteins called microtubules and kinesins as the actuator, and DNA as the information processor. "The system acts as a basic computer by executing simple mathematical operations, such as AND or OR operations, leading to various structures and complex motions," Kakugo says.

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Quantum 'Hack' to Unleash Computing Power
University of Sydney
Marcus Strom
February 2, 2018

Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia have found a "quantum hack" that should lead to significant efficiency gains in quantum computing. They say this breakthrough allows for a 400-percent gain in the amount of interference noise a quantum computing system can theoretically sustain while retaining its fidelity. University of Sydney professor Stephen Bartlett notes this is achieved by designing the quantum decoder to match the properties of the noise experienced by the quantum bits (qubits). The current standard threshold for fidelity in a qubit architecture is about 1 percent, meaning at least 99 percent of a system's qubits must retain information and coherence for relevant periods of time to complete any useful computations. Assuming ideal hardware, Bartlett says the new method has an error correction threshold of up to 43.7 percent, which represents a fourfold improvement on the current theoretical basis for error correction.

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Cucumbers on the vine Lightweight Robots Harvest Cucumbers
February 1, 2018

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (IPK) in Germany are developing a lightweight dual-arm robot for the automated harvesting of cucumbers as part of the European Union's Cucumber Gathering-Green Field Experiments project. The researchers are tasked with creating three prototype grippers, including a gripper based on vacuum technology, a set of bionic gripper jaws, and a customized "cucumber hand." Their work builds on an earlier project that yielded a dual-arm control system with efficient task-oriented programming for a humanoid industrial assembly robot. The team is augmenting this system so that it can plan, code, and control the behavior of robots harvesting cucumbers. These preprogrammed behavioral patterns make bimanual searching possible, enabling the robot to look for cucumbers as a person would. "The robot can, for example, push leaves to the side using symmetrical or asymmetrical movements, or congruent and incongruent movements," says Fraunhofer IPK's Dragoljub Surdilovic.

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MIT Enlisting Hundreds of Scientists in Effort to Make Computers Think More Like People
The Boston Globe
Andy Rosen
February 1, 2018

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Thursday announced the launch of the MIT Intelligence Quest (MIT IQ), an agenda to coordinate the efforts of MIT's many experts to train computers to think in a more human-like manner. MIT president Rafael Reif says more than 200 faculty working in fields that include brain science, computer engineering, and robotics intend to participate in MIT IQ. He notes the program is designed to help connect scientists across disciplines and support projects in which they collaborate, as well as seek joint ventures with industry. "This is really about coupling the science of intelligence and the engineering--that is, the basic science of how intelligence works in the mind and brain with the quest to engineer more powerful, more intelligent, more human kinds of intelligence in machines," says MIT professor Josh Tenenbaum. For example, he sees cross-disciplinary collaboration helping with his development of algorithms based on the workings of the brain.

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New Technique Can Capture Images of Ultrafast Energy-Time Entangled Photon Pairs
University of Waterloo News
January 31, 2018

Researchers at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing in Canada have captured the first images of ultrafast energy-time entangled photons. "This technique will allow us to explore all sorts of quantum effects that were inaccessible because the detectors were simply too slow," says Waterloo's Jean-Philippe MacLean. Energy-time entanglement transpires when a pair of photons are strongly correlated in both their frequency and time of arrival. The team employed optical gating, a method for imaging the photons in time using short light pulses, which enabled them to exceed the limitations in current detectors and quantify entangled pairs of photons with a resolution below one-trillionth of a second. "In the last 10 to 20 years, researchers have been interested in exploring and exploiting energy-time entanglement for communication," MacLean notes. "By being able to measure ultrafast entangled photons, our measurement technique opens the door to exploiting entanglement in a whole new regime."

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Illustration of squares connected by lines  Berkeley Lab Researchers Contribute to Making Blockchains Even More Robust
Berkeley Lab News Center
Linda Vu
January 30, 2018

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the University of California at Davis, and the University of Stavanger in Norway have developed BChain, a protocol that makes blockchain even more robust. BChain reduces the impact that a misbehaving server can have on a system. "This was accomplished by making the other servers in the chain monitor each other, and if misbehavior is detected, the suspected server can be moved to the end of the chain, where it won't have any impact," says Berkeley Lab's Sean Peisert. BChain is a private blockchain, meaning it requires an invitation to join and validation by either the network starter or a set of rules implemented by the originator. A private blockchain leverages the same properties of the public chain without requiring the brute-force solving of a computationally hard problem each time new data is added, since the ability to write to the blockchain is based on pre-determined access control permissions.

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Vanderbilt Wins Top Prize in First Round of DARPA Spectrum Collaboration Challenge
Vanderbilt University
Brenda Ellis
January 30, 2018

Vanderbilt University's MarmotE team has won the first round of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2). SC2 focuses on using machine intelligence to efficiently allocate bands for use on the radio frequency spectrum, and competitors faced fluctuating bandwidths and interference from other competitors along with DARPA-designed bots that tested and challenged their radio designs. Radio performance was judged according to its collaborative spectrum-sharing abilities, and the competition determined when two radio networks were asked to share the spectrum, the top-performing teams could adapt their spectrum utilization so both networks could successfully transmit with minimal interference. "Central management of the spectrum is simply not scalable and pretty wasteful, but ad-hoc sharing as implemented in Wi-Fi is not working either," says Vanderbilt professor Miklos Maroti. "The best solution to spectrum management would be a combination of distributed cooperation and adaptation driven by the latest advances of machine learning."

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Breaking Down Barriers to Computer Science for Students With Disabilities
The Daily
Jake Goldstein-Street
January 29, 2018

Sheryl Burgstahler, director of the University of Washington's Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology Center, notes disabled students are often shortchanged in computer science (CS) education. Burgstahler and others are working to make CS more widely available via initiatives such as the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF) AccessCSForAll project. Thanks to a new grant, AccessCSForAll will establish a research practitioner partnership with schools that serve students with disabilities and mainstream schools to determine the efficacy of an accessible version of the class Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles for handicapped learners. The project also will recruit experts to develop educational resources for CS instructors to learn how to include students with disabilities, using a blend of collective work with teachers and individualized support for teachers in need. Although the grant will not impact CS education for women and underrepresented minorities, University of Nevada professor Andreas Stefik says the NSF is "absolutely cognizant" of these populations.

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Penn Engineering Research Gives Optical Switches the 'Contrast' of Electronic Transistors
Penn News
Evan Lerner
January 26, 2018

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) say they have found a way to precisely control the combination of optical signals via customized electric fields, producing outputs with a near-perfect contrast and extremely large on/off ratios. They note these properties are essential to the creation of a functional optical transistor. The team first found a system that had no background signal, in the form of a nanoscale "belt" composed of cadmium sulfide. The application of an electrical field across the nanobelt enabled the researchers to introduce optical nonlinearities to the system to facilitate a signal mixing output that was otherwise zero. "Our system turns on from zero to extremely large values, and hence has perfect contrast, as well as large modulation and on/off ratios," says UPenn professor Ritesh Agarwal. "Therefore, for the first time, we have an optical device with output that truly resembles an electronic transistor."

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Automated System Finds Rapid Honey Bee Communication Networks